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All About Satisfactory Academic Progress and How to Appeal

Satisfactory academic progress, or SAP, is a set of requirements that students must meet to receive federal financial aid. These requirements usually include a minimum GPA, enrollment in credit hours, and demonstrated progress towards a degree.

In special circumstances, students who are not meeting these requirements can file SAP Appeals. Here’s our explanation of all the SAP requirements and a guide to SAP appeals. We’ll explain who is eligible to appeal, how to write one, and how to submit it.

What are the requirements for satisfactory academic progress?

Satisfactory academic progress is a set of standards that students must meet in order to continue to receive federal financial aid. These standards vary by school, but they typically mandate that students meet a benchmark in each of these three categories:

  • Grade point average – Schools may have an overall GPA requirement, a semester GPA requirement, or both.
  • Credit hours – Students must enroll in a minimum number of credit hours per semester in order to remain eligible for federal aid.
  • Demonstrated progress towards a degree – Students must be completing courses that will meet the requirements for their target degree within a specific timespan.

What are my school’s satisfactory academic progress requirements?

Each school has different requirements for satisfactory academic progress. Typically, you can find these requirements on their website. The Office of Financial Aid or by the Registrar usually posts the requirements.

As an example, the University of Illinois has an extensive description of their SAP requirements on their website. They include a minimum GPA, a percentage of completed courses, and a time frame for completing your degree. Make sure to read your SAP guidelines carefully. Some schools change their requirements based on what program the student is enrolled in.

What about satisfactory academic progress for private scholarships?

Many renewable private scholarships also include satisfactory academic progress requirements. These requirements can vary widely between scholarships. So, make sure to check the requirements listed on the organization’s website if you are planning on renewing your scholarship. If the requirements are unclear or aren’t listed, reach out to someone at the organization to find out if you are on track to renew your scholarship.

Consequences of failing to make satisfactory academic progress

Students who don’t meet satisfactory academic progress guidelines will typically receive a warning from their school. They have until the end of this warning period until their federal financial aid is suspended. This includes the Pell Grant, federal loans, and any other federal financial aid.

A financial aid suspension will typically also suspend any merit-based financial aid from your school. If you are in danger of falling behind, you should make sure to check the requirements of all of your financial aid sources.

If your aid is suspended, you’ll have to pay your educational expenses yourself. This might mean taking out private loans to help finance your education. Private loans typically have much higher interest rates and less flexible terms of repayment. If at all possible, it is best to avoid this situation by making satisfactory academic progress or appealing your suspension.

If your federal aid is suspended, you can still improve your academic standing in the next semester and return to good standing. Once you meet the minimum requirements again, you will renew your eligibility for financial aid.

Read more: Navigating different types of student loans

Making an SAP Appeal

In special circumstances, students who are not making satisfactory academic progress can make an appeal. These appeals are typically filed with the financial aid department at your school.  

When can I make an SAP appeal?

Satisfactory academic progress appeals are typically accepted for the following special circumstances:

  • Serious health problems suffered by the student that inhibited their ability to complete coursework
  • Serious illness or injury in the student’s immediate family
  • A death in the student’s family
  • Struggles with mental illness
  • Domestic issues in the student’s home or in their immediate family

Working too many hours at a job or signing up for overly difficult classes are typically applicable for SAP appeals. If you are experiencing these issues, try to remedy them before it’s too late so you don’t have to file an SAP appeal.

How to make an SAP appeal

Students typically make an SAP appeal after receiving a notice of warning from their school. If the letter does not contain instructions for filing an SAP appeal, check your school’s website or contact the office that sent you the warning.

File SAP appeals promptly after receiving a warning notice. Remember, some schools have a narrow time window where they accept SAP appeals.

How to write an SAP appeal

Be direct and polite. You should disclose all of the relevant information that you feel comfortable disclosing. Your circumstances may be uncomfortable to discuss, but try to convey everything you need to without writing too emotionally.

Include any relevant documentation. Include any official records of your special circumstances, such as a note from a doctor or psychologist. If you don’t have a note but you saw an expert to help with your circumstances, reach out to them and ask for documentation. 

Outline your plan to improve. Show the appeals board that you will not have the same problems next semester. If you have recovered from your injury, moved out of an unhealthy living situation, or begun to see a psychiatrist for a mental illness, include this information.

What happens next?

If your appeal is accepted

If accepted, financial aid will continue while you enter a probationary period. The school will check in on you during the semester to ensure that you are regaining good academic standing. They may ask for you to submit a plan to get back on track.

If your appeal is denied

When an appeal is denied, you will not be able to receive financial aid for the next semester. If you can afford to continue taking classes without financial aid, you can take courses next semester with the hopes of returning to good academic standing and regaining eligibility. 

Many students are not in a position to pay for classes without financial aid. In this case, you can ask your college if they will accept community college credits. By taking community college courses for a semester, you can save money and return to good academic standing.

Takeaways for students

As you can see, the appeals process for satisfactory academic progress is long and complicated. Students whose appeals are denied can face serious financial consequences.

If you think that you might not satisfy SAP requirements, reach out to your professors and to student services beforehand. You’ll have much better luck dealing with the problem earlier rather than waiting to file an appeal. Many professors will work with you to help you succeed, especially if you are going through hardship.

Learn more: How does withdrawing from a class affect financial aid?